Temple garment

Temple garment circa 1879 (GSR 1879).

A Temple garment (also referred to as garments, or Mormon underwear)[1] is a type of underwear worn by members of some denominations of the Latter Day Saint movement, after they have taken part in the Endowment ceremony. Garments are worn both day and night and are required for any previously endowed adult to enter a church temple.[2] The undergarments are viewed as a symbolic reminder of the covenants made in temple ceremonies, and are viewed as either a symbolic or literal source of protection from the evils of the world.[3]

The garment is given as part of the washing and anointing portion of the endowment. Today, the temple garment is worn primarily by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) and by members of some Mormon fundamentalist churches. Adherents consider them to be sacred and not suitable for public display. Anti-Mormon activists have occasionally publicly displayed or defaced temple garments to show their opposition to the LDS Church.[4]

Temple garments are sometimes derided as "magic underwear" by non-Mormons, but Mormons view this terminology to be misleading.[5][6]


19th century garments and original symbolism

In the 19th century, the temple garment was a one-piece undergarment extending to the ankles and the wrists, resembling a union suit, with an open crotch and a collar. It was made of unbleached cotton, and was held together with ties in a double knot. The garment had four marks that were snipped into the cloth as part of the original Nauvoo Endowment ceremony.[7] These marks were a reverse-L-shaped symbol on the right breast, a V-shaped symbol on the left breast, and horizontal marks at the navel and over the right knee. These cuts were later replaced by embroidered symbols. According to Mormon doctrine, the marks in the garments are sacred symbols.[8] One proposed element of the symbolism, according to early Mormon leaders[citation needed], was a link to the Square and Compasses, the symbols of freemasonry,[9] to which Joseph Smith, Jr. had been initiated about seven weeks prior to his introduction of the Endowment ceremony.[10][clarification needed]

Thus, the V-shaped symbol on the left breast was referred to as "The Compasses", while the reverse-L-shaped symbol on the right breast was referred to by early church leaders as "The Square".[11]

According to an explanation by LDS Church President John Taylor in 1883, the "Square" represents "the justice and fairness of our Heavenly Father, that we will receive all the good that is coming to us or all that we earn, on a square deal", and the "Compasses" represents "the North Star".[12] In addition to the Square and Compasses, Taylor described the other symbols as follows: the collar represented the idea that the Lord's "yoke is easy and [his] burden is light", or the "Crown of the Priesthood"; the double-knotted strings represented "the Trinity" and "the marriage covenant"; the navel mark represents "strength in the navel and marrow in the bones"; and the knee mark represents "that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ".[13]

An alternative explanation was given in 1936 by then-LDS Church apostle David O. McKay, whose explanation was incorporated into the LDS Church's 20th-century version of the Endowment ceremony.[14] According to McKay's explanation of the ceremony, the "mark of the Compass" represents "an undeviating course leading to eternal life; a constant reminder that desires, appetites, and passions are to be kept within the bounds the Lord has set; and that all truth may be circumscribed into one great whole"; the "mark of the Square" represents "exactness and honor" in keeping the commandments and covenants of God; the navel mark represents "the need of constant nourishment to body and spirit"; and the "knee mark" represents "that every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus is the Christ".[14] Unlike Taylor, McKay did not describe the symbolism of the collar or the tie-strings because those elements of the garment had been eliminated in 1922.[15]

Post-19th century modifications by the LDS Church

Post-1979 two-piece temple garments end just above the knee for both sexes. Women's garments have cap sleeves with either a rounded or sweetheart neckline. Male tops are available in tee-shirt styles.[16]

In 1893, the church expressed an official preference for the color white, and since then they are white by default. However, desert sand-colored garments may be purchased for military use, and members may submit regulation military T-shirts of any color to the church for custom addition of the symbolic markings.[17]

For several decades, the original 19th-century garment pattern, which had become standardized in the 1840s, was understood within Mormon doctrine as being unalterable. In 1906, LDS Church President Joseph F. Smith characterized as a "grievous sin" any attempt, in the name of changing fashion trends, to modify the 1840s garment pattern, which he characterized as "sacred, unchanged, and unaltered from the very pattern in which God gave them."[18] However, while the original pattern of the garment is still in use by some Mormon fundamentalists, over the years, the LDS Church has modernized the original pattern.

In 1923, a letter from LDS Church President Heber J. Grant to stake and temple presidents, stated that after careful and prayerful consideration it was unanimously decided by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the LDS Church, that specific modifications would be permitted to the garments: sleeve to elbow, leg just below knee, buttons instead of strings, collar eliminated, crotch closed.[19] Other changes were made after 1923 which shortened the sleeves and legs more and eliminated buttons.

In the 1930s, the LDS Church built Beehive Clothing Mills, which manufactured and sold the garments, thereby leading to a more standardized design. During this time women's garments were one-piece designs that ended just above the knees and had a cap sleeve. In the 1970s, the first two-piece garment became available and Mormons generally accepted the change.[20] Today garments are made in both styles with a variety of different fabrics. Feminine styles are sold with either a rounded or a sweetheart neckline with cap sleeves. Sweetheart necklines usually follow the line of the bra, which is usually worn over the garment. There are also two styles of necklines for men. Endowed church members can purchase garments through Church distribution centers worldwide, through the mail, and online. They are sold at a moderate price that is assumed to be near cost.[16]

To purchase temple garments, members must be endowed.[21] To purchase garments online, they must provide their membership record number.[22] Endowed members can find their membership record number on their temple recommend or by obtaining a copy of their Individual Ordinance Summary.[22]

LDS Church teachings on use

The LDS Church instructs its endowed members to wear temple garments "according to the instructions given in the endowment."[23] which states that "you must wear [the garment] throughout your life."[24][25] In the Church's Handbook of Instructions, leaders are instructed to tell members they "should wear the garment both day and night".[26] Members are told that they should not partially or completely remove the garment to participate in activities that can "reasonably be done with the garment worn properly beneath the clothing".[26] When necessary, the garment may be temporarily removed, but members are told that after the activity "they should put it back on as soon as possible."[26] Swimming is given as an example of an activity that would justify removal of the garment.[26]

Garment wearers are also instructed that they should not adjust the garment or wear it in a way that would accommodate the wearing of what the church considers to be immodest clothing[26] (which includes uncovering areas of the body that would normally be covered by the garment, such as the shoulders and lower thighs). Members are instructed to keep garments clean and mended and to refrain from displaying them or exposing them to the view of others who may not understand their significance.[26] Prior to the disposal of old garments, members are instructed to cut out the markings on them.[1][27] After the marks are removed, "the fabric is not considered sacred" and the garment fabric may be cut up and discarded or used for other purposes.[1][27]


According to the LDS Church, the temple garments serve a number of purposes. First, the garment provides the member "a constant reminder" of the covenants they made in the temple. Second, the garment "when properly worn...provides protection against temptation and evil". Wearing the garment is also "an outward expression of an inward commitment" to follow Jesus Christ.[26] General authority Carlos E. Asay adds that the garment "strengthens the wearer to resist temptation, fend off evil influences, and stand firmly for the right."[28]

The nature of the protection believed to be afforded by temple garments is ambiguous and varies between adherents.[29] Researchers who interviewed a sample of Latter-day Saints who wear the temple garment reported that virtually all wearers expressed a belief that wearing the garment provided "spiritual protection" and encouraged them to keep their covenants.[29] Some of those interviewed "asserted that the garment also provided physical protection, while others seemed less certain of any physical aspect to protection."[29] In Mormon folklore, tales are told of Latter-day Saints who credit their temple garments with helping them survive car wrecks, fires, and natural disasters.[1]

Latter-day Saint views as to sacredness

To members of the LDS Church, the temple garment represents the sacred and personal aspects of their relationship with God. Church President Joseph F. Smith taught that the garment was to be held as "the most sacred of all things in the world, next to their own virtue, next to their own purity of life."[18] For this reason, most Church members feel uncomfortable discussing the garment in a casual or disrespectful manner.[30] Some church leaders have compared the garment to the clerical vestments worn by clergy of other churches.[28][31] Church leaders have publicly discussed the above principles and beliefs in general terms since the mid-1840s. However, because of the sacredness surrounding temple rites for many Latter-day Saints, some have utilized the temple garment for parody and satire.[1] Instances where garments were sold on internet auction sites have been criticized by some LDS Church members.[32]

During the October 2003 General Conference of the Church, some anti-Mormon demonstrators outside the LDS Conference Center reportedly spat and stomped on garments in view of those attending the conference. A scuffle broke out between a protester and two members of the church who attempted to take the garments from him.[33] To avoid a repeat of the conflict, the municipality of Salt Lake City planned stronger enforcement of fighting words and hate speech laws for the April 2004 Conference in Salt Lake City with new protest buffer zones.[34]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Stuever (2002)
  2. ^ Marshall (1992)
  3. ^ Koch & Weis (1999, p. 35)
  4. ^ Moore (2003)
  5. ^ Jennifer Dobner, "Mormon Defense League aims to educate journalists, politicos about Utah-based faith's beliefs," Associated Press (4 August 2011). Misinformation or misperceptions about Mormonism — including that faithful Latter-day Saints wear "magic underwear" or still practice polygamy — stem from a lack of understanding of the church's history, doctrine and culture, Gordon said.
  6. ^ Tresa Edmunds, "Mormon underwear keeps body and soul together", Guardian Unlimited (1 March 2011). I get a lot of questions about my 'magical' underwear, but our garments are just like a Christian cross or a Jewish yarmulke.
  7. ^ (Buerger (1987, p. 56); Beadle (1870, p. 497); Bennett (1842, pp. 247–48).
  8. ^ Buerger (2002, p. 58).
  9. ^ Morgan (1827, pp. 22–23).
  10. ^ Smith was initiated into freemasonry on March 15, 1842 (Roberts 1908, pp. 4:550–52), and he introduced the temple ceremony to close associates on May 4, 1842 (Roberts 1910, p. 5:1)
  11. ^ Buerger 2002, p. 145. According to the Masonic rite to which Smith was initiated, "the Square [is given to us] to square our actions, and the Compass to keep us in due bounds with all mankind" (Morgan 1827, pp. 22–23).
  12. ^ Buerger 2002, p. 145.
  13. ^ Buerger (2002, p. 145).
  14. ^ a b Buerger (2002, p. 153).
  15. ^ Buerger (2002, p. 138).
  16. ^ a b Arthur (1999, p. 44).
  17. ^ LDS Church (2007).
  18. ^ a b Smith (1906, p. 813).
  19. ^ (Buerger 2002, p. 138)
  20. ^ Arthur (1999, p. 44)
  21. ^ "Store Help". LDS Church. http://store.lds.org/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/HelpFaqView?catalogId=10557&langId=-1&storeId=715839595#clothing. Retrieved 30 September 2011. 
  22. ^ a b "LDS Membership Info". https://ldsaccount.lds.org/sign-in/go/membershipInfo.jsf?conversationId=116827. Retrieved 30 September 2011. 
  23. ^ LDS Church (2011)
  24. ^ Hoffer, Vince. "Mormon Temple "Initiatory" Ceremonies". http://www.lds-mormon.com/veilworker/rituals.shtml. Retrieved 30 September 2011. 
  25. ^ Duffy, John-Charles. "Initiatory Ordinance". http://www.ldsendowment.org/initiatory.html. Retrieved 30 September 2011. 
  26. ^ a b c d e f g LDS Church (2006, p. 80)
  27. ^ a b LDS Church (2006, p. 81)
  28. ^ a b Asay (1997)
  29. ^ a b c Berg (1999, p. 49)
  30. ^ "Balancing Interest and Good Taste" (Press release). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 24 April 2007. http://newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/commentary/balancing-interest-and-good-taste. Retrieved 12 January 2010.  Paragraph 9
  31. ^ Packer (2002).
  32. ^ Stack (2004).
  33. ^ Moore (2003).
  34. ^ Piatt (2004).


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